Walter Jon Williams


“Hey Earthgirl! I got someone for you to meet!”

Stoney was excited. He was almost always excited. He was one of Lamey's lieutenants, a boy who hijacked cargo that came over the sea to Maranic Port and sold it through Lamey's outlets in the Fabs. Stoney wore soft felt boots and a puffy padded jacket with rows of tiny little metal chimes that rang when he moved, and a hard round plastic hat without a brim, the clothes that all Lamey's linkboys wore when they wanted to be noticed.

Gredel came into the room on Lamey's arm. He had dressed her in a gown of short-haired kantaran leather set off with collar and cuffs of white satin, big clunky white ceramic jewelry inlaid with gold, shiny little plastic boots with nubbly surfaces and tall heels. The height of fashion, at least as far as the Fabs were concerned.

Lamey liked shopping for Gredel. He took her to the stores and bought her a new outfit two or three times each week.

Lamey had earned his name because he once had a defect that made him walk with a limp. It was something he'd had fixed as soon as he had the money, and when Gredel first met him, he glided along like a prince, putting each foot down with deliberate, exaggerated care, as if he were walking on rice paper and didn't want to tear it. Lamey was only twenty-five years old in Shaa measure, but already he ran a set of linkboys, and had linkages of his own that eventually ran up to some of the Peers responsible for running places like the Fabs. He had millions, all in cash stashed in various places, and three apartments, and half a dozen small stores through which he moved the material acquired by his crews.

He also had a seventeen-year-old girlfriend called Earthgirl.

Lamey had offered to set her up in an apartment, but Gredel still lived with Nelda, the woman who had mostly raised her since Gredel's mother had been sentenced to serve on the agrarian communes. Gredel wasn't sure why she stayed. Maybe it was because Gredel hoped she could protect Nelda against Antony, her husband-Gredel's earliest memories were of cowering in the dark while Antony raged outside the door, bellowing and smashing furniture. Or maybe Gredel stayed because once she moved into a place that Lamey bought her, she'd have to spend all her time there waiting for him to come see her. She wouldn't be able to leave for fear that he'd come by and find her gone and get angry; and she couldn't have her friends visit because they might be there when Lamey turned up and that would probably make him mad, too.

That was the kind of life Gredel's mother Ava had always led, waiting in some apartment somewhere for some man to turn up. That's why Ava had never been able to see her daughter when she wanted to. Gredel's father had apparently been caught at something, but it had been Ava who had paid for it, and Gredel's father who had skipped town. Gredel had seen him maybe twice since then.

Gredel wanted a different life for herself. She had no idea how to get it, but she was paying attention, and maybe some day she'd learn.

Gredel still attended school. Every afternoon, when Gredel left her school, she'd find Lamey in his car waiting for her, Lamey or one of his boys who would take Gredel to wherever Lamey was waiting.

Gredel's attending school was something Lamey found amusing. “I'm going around with a schoolgirl,” he'd laugh, and sometimes he'd remind her to do her schoolwork when he had to leave with his boys on some errand or other. Not that he left her much time for schoolwork. Her grades had plunged to the point where she would probably get kicked out of school before she graduated.

Tonight, the eve of the Festival of Spring, Lamey had taken Gredel to a party at Panda's place. Panda was another of Lamey's linkboys, and he worked on the distribution end. He'd pointed Stoney and his crew at a warehouse full of wine imported from Cavado and pharmaceuticals awaiting shipment to a Fleet hospital on Spannan's ring. The imported wine was proving difficult to sell, there not being much of a market in the Fabs for something so select; but the pharmaceuticals were moving fast through Panda's outlets and everyone was in the mood to celebrate.

“Come on, Earthgirl!” Stoney urged. “You've got to meet her!”

A warning hummed through Gredel's nerves as she saw everyone at the party looking at her with eyes that glittered from more than whatever they'd been consuming earlier in the evening. There was an anticipation there in those eyes Gredel didn't like. So she dropped Lamey's arm and straightened-because she didn't want these people to see her afraid-and she walked to where Stoney waited.

“Earthgirl!” Stoney said. “This is Caro!” He was practically jumping up and down with excitement, and instead of looking where Stoney was pointing, Gredel just gave Stoney a long, cool glance, because he was just so outrageous this way.

When she turned her head, her first thought was, She's beautiful. And then the full impact of the other girl's face struck her.

“Ah. Ha,” she said.

Caro looked at her with a ragged grin. She had long golden hair and green eyes and skin smooth as butter- cream, flawless…

“It's your twin!” Stoney almost shouted. “Your secret twin sister!”

Gredel gaped while everyone laughed, but Caro just looked at her and said, “Are you really from Earth?”

“No,” Gredel said. “I'm from here.”

“Help me build this pyramid.”

Gredel shrugged. “Why not?” she said.

Caro wore a short dress and a battered jacket with black metal buckles and boots that came up past her knees-expensive stuff. She stood by the dining table carefully building a pyramid of crystal wine glasses. “I saw this done once,” she said. “You pour the wine into the one glass on the top, and when it overflows it fills all the others. If you do it right, you fill all the glasses and you don't spill a drop.”

Caro spoke with a kind of drawl, like Peers or rich people did when they made speeches or announcements on video.

“We're going to make a mess,” Gredel predicted.

“That's all right, too,” Caro shrugged.

When the pyramid was completed, Caro got Stoney to start opening bottles. It was the wine his crew had stolen from the warehouse in Maranic Port, and it was a kind of bright silver in color, and filled the glasses like liquid mercury.

Caro tried to pour carefully, but, as Gredel predicted, she made a terrible mess, the precious wine bubbling across the tabletop and over onto the carpet. Caro seemed to find this funny. At length, all the glasses were brimming full, and she put down the bottle and called everyone over to drink. They took glasses and cheered and drank. Laughter and clinking glasses rang in the air. The glasses were so full that the carpet got another bath.

Caro took one glass for herself and pushed another into Gredel's hand, then took a second glass for herself and led Gredel to the sofa. Gredel sipped cautiously at the wine-there was something subtle and indefinable about the taste, something that made her think of the park in spring, the way the trees and flowers had a delicate freshness to them. She'd never tasted any wine like it before.

The taste was more seductive than she wanted anything with alcohol to be. She didn't take a second sip.

“So,” Caro said, “are we related?”

“I don't think so,” Gredel said.

Caro swallowed half the contents of a glass in one go. “Your dad was never on Zanshaa? I can almost guarantee my dad was never here.”

“I get my looks from my Ma, and she's never been anywhere,” Gredel said. Then, surprised, “You're from Zanshaa?”

Caro gave a little twitch of her lips, followed by a shrug. Interpreting this as a yes, Gredel asked,

“What do your parents do?”

“They got executed,” Caro said.

Gredel hesitated. “I'm sorry,” she said. Caro's parents were linked, obviously. No wonder she was hanging with this crowd.

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